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Researchers studying Algal Blooms in the Chowan River

Algal Blooms spotted near Arrowhead Beach in Edenton
Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 8:51 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Researchers at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences are currently studying algal blooms in the Chowan river.

Water samples being studied at UNC's Institute of Marine Sciences
Water samples being studied at UNC's Institute of Marine Sciences(witn)

Haley Plaas is a PhD Student at UNC. She is working to determine if particles from the algae become airborne and are harmful to humans. Researchers already know that if ingested the blue/green algae or Cyanobacteria is toxic to both people and animals. Scientists say, it produces a toxin that can affect your liver and other functions in the body.

“These are tiny microscopic particles that become airborne and we’re evaluating whether or not there is a considerable of cyanobacteria cells or toxin in those aerosols of the Chowan River,” said Plaas.

Last year this same type of algal bloom was found in a pond in Wilmington and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of three dogs.

Algal Blooms can happen when temperatures warm up and when there is a surplus of nutrients in the water to feed the algae. When blooms begin to get more dense, they can die off and eliminate oxygen from the water which can trigger fish kills.

To determine if these airborne particles are dangerous, Plaas and her team are taking two types of samples to see if the levels are high enough that they could impact someone. “We’re also collecting water at the same time to kind of see what’s going on in the water and is that translating to the air at all,” said Plaas.

Their work will continue all summer long and they hope to have preliminary results in September.

Algal Blooms happen in bodies of water all over the world. Plaas says that while they do happen every year, there are still things people can do to help minimize some of it.

Plaas says, “We know that runoff, nutrients from fertilizer in the run off that’s delivered to these blooms is what can make them grow so dense so just being mindful of when you’re fertilizing your lawn.”

The NC Division of Water Resources has issued an advisory of a potential algal bloom currently in the Chowan River. You are urged to keep pets out of the areas where you see the green algae, and swimming is not advised in those areas.

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